August 29, 2007

The fatal attraction of IVF

An Irish woman has died from IVF treatment. Not the first, and surely not the last. Attention egg donors - you aren't just giving your child away. You are potentially dying to give your child away.

August 28, 2007

Genetic links are only important for the parents, right?

In her article on transgenerational reproduction, the commentator, Ana Smajdor, points out something very interesting, ironic and important.

She discusses the recent case of the Montreal woman Melanie Boivin, who has frozen some of her eggs so that her 7-year-old infertile daughter Flavie would be able to use them someday. Smajdor points out that this kind of egg donation shows that the mother believes that the genetic link is important in having children. If Melanie Boivin had not thought that it was important to be genetically related to the child, then she wouldn't have frozen her eggs for her daughter to eventually use: "Because of course Flavie, like any other infertile person, could seek to use donated eggs if on reaching adulthood, she found herself longing to start a family."

The irony is that while Boivin believes that it's important for the child to be genetically related to the parent, the reality is that by using her mother's eggs, Flavie will be giving birth not to her own genetic daughter but to her half-sibling: in effect, Melanie Boivin will have a child with Flavie's future husband.

What a screwed up scenario. However, it's not as new as you may think. This has already happened! In her book Everything Conceivable, Liza Mundy mentions a case where the father of an infertile man donated his sperm for the son to use. The son has thus had a baby which is, in reality, his half-sibling.

August 24, 2007

More on birth certificates in the UK

Natasha Pearlman, "I feel so betrayed because I don't know who my father is" (Daily Mail, August 2, 2007) - An excellent article about Tom Ellis and how he has reacted to finding out about his real origin. And to think that there is opposition in Britain to placing the "donor-conceived" stamp on children's birth certificates:

"Bizarre", responded outspoken MP Evan Harris. "There is no proper evidence that children or adults suffer from not knowing who their 'real fathers' are, whether from IVF or from infidelity," he said. He was backed up by the chief ethicist for the British Medical Association, Dr Vivienne Nathanson. The committee's view of parenthood is decades out of date, she wrote. Parents ought to be honest with their children, but they should be coaxed into doing so, not forced. Placing "donor conceived" on birth certificates is "a highly genetic-determinist view of life".

No proper evidence, really? Does Tom Ellis and others like him need to scream harder? Something tells me that no hearing aid could ever help these people: they just don't WANT to get it.

Indeed, Vivienne Nathanson's whole argument (read it here
) is disturbing. She argues not only that there is no evidence that children are harmed, and that the whole arugment of harm is "illusory" but that the real harm here is to the parents, who would be forced to tell - and so their parenting is being undermined. No longer can parents choose the timing of telling their child - now they must tell whenever their child sees their birth certificate (if not sooner).

And then, of course, the terrible threat - if UK legislation mandates disclosure, then parents will go abroad and have their children elsewhere! Our country will be populated by aliens! To which I say, too bad, too bad.

And too bad for the parents who can no longer choose to lie forever. Nathanson's argument about timing would have more force if it didn't run smack against the statistic that up to 90% of parents choose NEVER to tell their children that they are donor-conceived. It's not about WHEN here, it's about telling AT ALL. That's really the right that Parliament wants to protect. Children have a right to know, and their parents often have too many "good" reasons never to tell them.

Nathanson is right that the parents' freedom of parenting is being clipped here. But where adult freedoms run up against the rights of children, Western law has long stood solidly on the side of the weaker party - the best interests of the children take precedence, thank you very much. Parents have a few years to figure out how and when to tell, while the child doesn't even yet know what a birth certificate is, can't read it or hasn't asked to see it. You'd think that would be enough time for the parents to get their act together. By the time a child knows what a birth certificate is, you'd think the child would also have the right to know who its biological parents are.

UK - committee suggests that birth certificates record donor conception

This is real progress. In the UK, a parliamentary committee has recommended that birth certificates let children know that they were donor conceived. That's wonderful news, especially since about 90% of donor-conceived children still don't even know it. Their so-called parents, who are really adoptive parents, biological strangers who ordered and bought these children from their real parents - don't even have to tell the resulting children of their true origins. As if it didn't matter. As if it shouldn't matter.

Some people have criticized this recommendation as "state intrusion on the sensitive and personal parental choice as to if an when to tell their child". Oooooh, so sorry. I forgot that it's always all about the parents. Naturally, the children have NO rights in this regard! They don't have the right to know who their parents are or where they come from! For all they care and for all it matters, they might have come from Crypton like Superman, and they shouldn't ask any questions. They can go on believing that they have Irish blood from their social father, who is actually not related to them. They can go on thinking that they face the risk of inheritable breast cancer from their mother's side, although she is in reality not related to them. It's all in their best interest, and love is all that matters.

August 20, 2007

The baby is so wanted that it must be really mine

By chance I noticed that this blog recently had the honor of being discussed on another blog. The blog "Right v. Easy," which is written by a woman who is raising the biological son of her cousin (conceived via her cousin's egg donation), discusses on her website how this blog has been on her mind for quite some time.

To which I say, that's great. The intent of this blog is to get people thinking about a perspective that they may not have encountered much. The rights of children in assisted reproduction continue to be far too marginalized in the field of reproductive technologies. The entire industry is focused on the desires of the customers (the intended parents) rather than on the rights or needs of the merchandise (the children, who are often not yet conceived when the transactions take place).

Anna from "Right v. Easy" is of course disturbed by the things she has read here. The typical arguments again rear their head:

1. The accusation of hate - this website is full of "vitriol".

In other words, I exhibit animus against people who use these technologies. How can I prove that I don't "hate" just because I disagree? Anyone is free to come to whatever conclusion they want about what I think. All I can say is, I of course have great sympathy for those who deal with infertility, or with whatever compels them to consider assisted reproduction. These are never easy situations. Most commonly they are extremely difficult life choices that involve deep emotions of grief and loss, among others. For many people, reproductive technologies offer the only hope of ever having a biological child - that's a huge thing to give up.

As much compassion as I feel for those who suffer with these difficult life choices however, I still can't blindly condone any and all actions they hereby decide to take in order to assuage their own grief and to heal their wounds. Pain doesn't make all things right. Just because you hurt, it doesn't give you the free pass to trample over other people to heal yourself. Some things are wrong and they stay wrong, regardless of why they are done or who does them.

Just because I can't have children, that doesn't give me the right to other people's children. I can't just go to my neighbour, who has 7 kids, and take one of hers. And what if she were to offer me one of her kids just because I don't have one? Should I take it? No, I can't do that. The kid, standing there staring at me with it's big blue eyes, has a right to its own mother, and she can't just pack up the kid's little suitcase and ship it off next door because she feels bad for me, the neighbour who has no kids. The fact is, even the mother doesn't have the right to give her kids to other people like that - because they are people too, not things, so they have rights of their own.

And yet, that's exactly what is happening today. Kind people who feel compassionate for the childless are trying to make them feel better by giving them their own children - before they are even born. The child still stares up at me with its big blue eyes, but this time, it has no chance to have its real mom, because she was out of the picture before it was ever born.

2. The "Most Wanted and Loved Child" argument

The gold standard of the fertility industry. Everything is okay because it was done "in the name of love". It's okay to make a biological orphan, as long as the baby is loved and wanted so, so, so, so, very much. Love and desire make up for AAAaaaaall the wrongs of the world.

If only this were so. But the donor-conceived children themselves (those ungrateful little grubs) say something different. Lots of them are saying that being loved and wanted was not enough. Having lots of fluffy toys and cake and things and things was not enough! These kids are aching to be loved and wanted by their biological parents, not by random, unrelated infertile people!

Having doubts about that? Look at adoptees. How many adoptees were loved and wanted? Probably just as many as donor-conceived children. Their infertile parents went through YEARS of adoption hassles and red tape to get these adoptive kids. Yes, they were wanted! Yes, they had their little scrapbooks and love and love and mountains of things! Their parents gave them everything, EVERYTHING. And yet, these kids still shut themselves in their large rooms, go on their brand new laptops and click on Facebook and send out plaintive little messages searching for their real biological parents. Why do they do it? Because biology matters, whether you believe it or not. Because being loved by random, unrelated strangers is NOT the same as being loved by people whose faces resemble yours, who have your genes and you have theirs, who understand you and who connect with you on a deep, instinctive, primeval level that we can't express in words.

No, love from just anyone is not all that matters. No, being wanted by just anyone is not all that matters. Other things matter too: like seeing your own face in your mother's face. Like knowing that you have your artistic talent from your father, and that you can develop it into something great because he did. Like being proud of your heritage and identifying with the heros in your family's past and present. Like having a feeling of belonging when you play with your own brothers and sisters, whose likenesses and differences reassure you that you are normal and yet unique.

Anyway, love and desire are feelings that are famously here today and gone tomorrow. How many people have fallen out of love? How many people have changed their mind about something that they really, really wanted at one time? Love and desire are not the most stable basis for a timeless relationship. The only sure thing is biology, which cannot be altered. Biology begets love in a way that desire itself cannot. Biology begets unconditional love that is based on immutable relationship - parents love their children, who contain parts of themselves - forever, no questions asked. It's instinctive, it's primeval, it's animalistic - but it's real, and it works, and it has worked for millennia. Whereas the love of strangers is never fully unconditional, because it is based on choice - and choice is based on desire, on a feeling that can go away. There is no underlying bedrock of immutability - indeed, even legal relationships can be changed.

3. The specific case of illness avoidance

Anna did not use egg donation due to infertility. She did it to save her future child from a terrible illness, and she paid a terrible cost for it - she gave up her own fertility, and chose not to have her own biological child. Her motivation was noble, and I sympathize with her difficult choices. She did indeed give up much, in order to spare her future child an awful existence.

And yet, I still believe that her actions went too far. She was free to choose not to have children. However, her concern for having a healthy child, and her decision to give up her own children, still did not entitle her to other people's children.

As the situation stands now, Anna paid a great price for her decision not to have an unhealthy child: she had no biological child of her own. However, she also made someone else share the cost of her decision. Her son has also paid a price: because he was chosen to be the healthy child, he has had to give up his own biological mother. So (biologically speaking) while Anna is childless, he is motherless.

Only time will tell what Anna's son thinks of this arrangement. It cannot be assumed, although he is wanted and loved by Anna, that he will be A-OK with being given up by his biological mother - and it is his right, as Anna will surely admit, to think whatever he wants, to seek out his biological mother in the future, and even to call her "mom" if he so chooses. This kind of right to his biological parents is a natural right, and no one can take this right away from him, only violate it (until he becomes an adult and can reclaim it for himself).

Do you think that donor-conceived children don't do these things? I invite you to read the latest post from the website of Umbillicly Challenged, who at 20 years old finally packed her suitcases and took off to meet her real, biological mother for the first time. She left her protesting "social" parents behind, even as they left umpteen messages on her cell phone. Her description of what she experienced when she met her real mother is worth the read.

Commercializing Human Life in Canada

Margaret Somerville is probably the most famous ethicist in Canada. She is a professor of both medicine and law at McGill University in Montreal, and she has a very special role in Canadian public life. In a testament to the fact that human nature has a need for a sure moral compass, for a definite right and wrong even when they no longer believe in God, Margaret Somerville is the unofficial priest of Canadian atheism. This is not a role that is only hers, because it is true of nearly every ethicist these days. But she is the most well known of these gurus of right and wrong, who tell people what is right when people no longer believe in an absolute right and wrong.

But I digress. Regardless of where Margaret Somerville gets her personal ethical convictions, she does seem to get it right most of the time.

The other day, Somerville wrote an excellent article in the Ottawa Citizen (she also wrote a similar article on MercatorNet). She discusses how in Canada, a growing coalition of disparate interests is trying to push for the further commercialization of human life in the "baby business", the reproductive industry. Currently Canada doesn't allow surrogates and gamete donors to be paid for their services. A lot of people who have something at stake are complaining about this and are gearing up to pressure for changes. Where would this lead us? Right down the ol' road to the depersonalization of the human person, basically: we are turning children, people and human body parts into objects for sale and ownership. Wombs for sale, eggs for sale, sperm for sale, embryos for sale, babies for sale (by traditional surrogates) - highest price based on highest quality, best quality to the highest bidder! People for sale, lives for sale. Buy a person, buy a life. Freedom for sale. That's called being "progressive."

These is a chance to do something about it right now. The Assisted Human Reproduction Office of Canada is holding a public consultation on this issue, and the deadline for comments is September 14, 2007. Anyone can comment. Please consider submitting your comments. You can read the consultation document and find out how to comment here (it's the first document at the top of the page).

August 16, 2007

One step closer to artificial wombs

An artificial uterus has been created to allow eggs and sperm to come together, and the early embryo to grow, in more "optimal" conditions.

August 15, 2007

Having babies with sister's ovarian tissue

According to this article, scientists have now successfully transplanted ovarian tissue from one non-identical twin sister to the other, who started menstruating normally. If she gets pregnant, she will get pregnant with her sister's eggs - but they will have been matured and released within her own body. So she is only a tiny sliver of a distance away from being the "real" mother. The genetics don't come from her, but they are stored, matured and released in her body. The game of chance (regarding which egg will develop and be released) is played out within her belly.

Then there is the case of identical twins, which have apparently also successfully undergone ovarian tissue transplant-donations.

What about the resulting children? Who is the "real" mother?

Even as I maintain that the "real" mother is clearly the biological mother, the woman who originally produced the eggs and whose genetics are in the children, this twisting of nature is still enough to produce a massive migrane.

August 14, 2007

UK babies as sources of spare parts

Do you have a sick child that is in need of a kidney donor or a bone marrow transplant? In the UK, you need look no further. Now you will be able to skip the organ donor waiting list and have a new baby to provide these services for your existing precious child.

The UK is considering legislation that would allow parents to create "saviour siblings" to treat their ailing current children. The conditions these children have need not be fatal or life-threatening, only serious. They include "sickle-cell anaemia, renal failure, kidney disorders and spinal diseases."

A tiny voice of reason peeps in at the end of the news story, saying: "This process is wrong because choosing one embryo means discarding the others, and because the purpose of creating that child is not for its own sake but for its cord blood."

Exactly. Imagine being created for your kidney, bone marrow, or cord blood. All the other embryos didn't make it through the selection process - your brothers and sisters were thrown into the garbage not because there was something really wrong with them, but simply because their tissue failed to match the tissue of an existing sibling. You are the survivor, only because you have the kidney that they want and plan to take.

You of course have no choice about donating these things. So in reality, it is not a true donation. It is a "harvesting" of the ripe product once you are born. The first thing your parents think of as the nurse presents you to your mother's arms is: "The kidney is ready!" And off you go to the operating room.

Great. That's how I always wanted to be welcomed into the world. And after the kidney is transplanted, you of course have to hang around for the next 18 years, since they can't very well get rid of you. But if they could have had only the kidney, without having all the rest of you attached to it - who is to say that they wouldn't have done it?

You are a product, like a tree that is grown for its apples, like a cow that is kept for its milk. You are not their equal, because your body belongs to them, and they take from it what they want, before you are even old enough to realize.

And these people are your parents, and society lets them do it. Of course, the parents who want to create saviour siblings are calling this legislation "
a great step forward

Yes. Forward...and down the cliff, like lemmings. Forward...into the pagan past. Forward...beyond ethical bounds and into the darkness. Forward...because forward must mean improvement and progress, right?

August 12, 2007

The incredible resemblance of parents and children

It's nice to see your own face reflected in someone else. Somehow you don't feel like a total alien anymore. You belong in the world, there are others like you! You were not a freak accident but part of a plan. You were meant to be this way, and yes, you do fit in!

Congratulations to the lucky donor-conceived girl who found her real dad.

Another similar article about other happy reunions is here.

August 09, 2007

A sperm donor reaches out to his kids, and they want to call him "Dad"

This is what all those "intended" parents dread. They spend so much of their energy convincing themselves and each other that the biological parents don't matter to the child. They talk about how their child is happy and well adjusted, successful and popular, and well, nothing is missing from the child's life.

Then one day, the sperm donor shows up on the scene. And the child calls him DAD! How could this aberration have happened?

The moms in this article don't seem to mind, because they are mostly single moms "by choice." Their children don't have a father figure at all, so they are all just delighted to make contact with their real father.

But for those people who have spent their parenting years convincing the children that the sperm donor is a nobody, that he is a "friend" or a "good man" or an "uncle" who merely donated a cell to help "mommy and daddy" make baby, this story must be the source of shivers and nightmares.

For all those who think that the donor isn't the real father - this one admits it openly! And the kids couldn't be happier about it.

Read the story here.

August 03, 2007

Biological mom loses custody of child she signed away in traditional surrogacy agreement

The nightmare scenario has happened, and not for the first time. (Read the full story here). This time it is in the UK, but it has happened a few times in the U.S. as well. Here the mom -admittedly psychologically imbalanced and apparently driven by a "compulsive desire to bear further children" - agreed to be impregnanted by the sperm of a stranger, and she signed an agreement to give up the child to that stranger and his wife. But once the child was born, lo and behold she refused to give it up. She kept her son, who is now 17 months old.

Alas, the court found that the boy's "natural father" and his wife would be "better parents" for the boy than his de facto natural mother and her husband. So, the woman now has to follow up on her agreement and give up her own son - a forced adoption, really.

What a convoluted case. This is the twisted world that we are sinking into as surrogacy becomes mainstream and socially acceptable. We are playing fire with natural human emotions, attachments and relationships. When babies are conceived with gametes from two people who wouldn't touch each other with a ten-foot pole, then we are asking for these kinds of problems. When we ask women to sign away their natural right to the child conceived and born of them, we are guaranteeing these kinds of problems.

The biological parents here both want the child, they both love him, and they both have an equal, "natural" (as the court put it) right to the child. But they were never married, they were never in a relationship, they were never physical and possibly they don't even know each other - and at this point they hate each other. So for the child, this is a zero-sum game: he has to lose one to win one, and by winning one he loses the other. It's clear that in such an arrangement, the child is the loser. The only winners here are the adults - the bio mom gets $$$ in her pocket (though she nurses a broken heart) and the bio dad gets his precious baby boy, predictably the "most wanted and loved baby in the world.".

August 02, 2007

Another "Rotten Apple": An ungrateful donor-conceived adult explains how he feels, and why

One year ago, a young man wrote an article for The Independent in the United Kingdom. He was 23 years old, and his name was Tom Ellis. Two years earlier, he had found out that his he and his younger brother were both conceived using the sperm of two different donors. The following are excerpts from his personal reflection on his conception story:

I had been taught by my parents, and at school, that any family is OK so long as somebody loves you. It's not. I wish it were. I now have a deep need to find out who my father is. I want to know what he looks like, where he is, what he enjoys, which parts of my character I share with him. I need to know who it is that makes me who I am. You can't put a child or an adult into a situation like this and tell them that all you need is love and care, because it's not true. You need the genetic links, too.

My brother was shocked at first, but now he doesn't think about it. It's not something he wants to think about. We're not close. Now my mum and her husband are divorced my brother still sees him, but I don't.

I don't call him Dad any more. He just doesn't fulfil that role for me at all. Looking back, I realise that he never did. If I had known, I wouldn't have put up with some of the things I did. He was not a father figure. He just had these children who were living with him.

The relationship with my mum has been very difficult too, since I found out. We are able to talk about it to a certain extent, but she deliberately put me in a situation where I have little hope of ever knowing my father. It is a terrible and cruel thing to do to somebody, to create somebody, and bring them into existence, with that intention. I think now that she didn't understand what she was doing, and wasn't very well informed, but it was still a selfish act.

She said that at the time she had counselling, but I get the impression that it was minimal. It seems to have been intended to get them both to be OK with the actual procedure, but not to think about the consequences to the person created through it. But it's not just the clinic's responsibility: it is society's in general. This is something that causes a great deal of pain - and that shouldn't be allowed.

It is difficult to say this in a way that doesn't shock people or make me sound psychologically damaged, but I don't think I should have been born. I can't compare living under these conditions and not living at all, but nobody should ever be created under these circumstances.

I expect that I probably have quite a lot of siblings, too, because when my parents wanted to conceive my brother there was no sperm left from my father, so they had to use a different donor. I'd like to find them, but it is not as important as trying to find my father.

I know that not everyone who was donor-conceived feels the way that I do. But I'd be surprised if deep down - however happy their family lives are - they don't all have some desire to know who their father - or even mother - is. Something is missing, and I think they are probably in denial, and they actually do want to know where they came from. Essentially, what people are doing when they donate sperm or eggs is giving away their own children, and if society thinks that's OK, I'd be surprised.

I have done a Master's degree at Cambridge and am reasonably successful, but it doesn't make me feel any better about not knowing who I am.

There is a saying that there are two lasting bequests we can give our children: one is roots and the other is wings. I think donor-conception denies a child both of these. I feel like a tree that has half of its roots missing. And without them, I can hardly stand up.

August 01, 2007

How many children a year are born from egg donation and artificial insemination?

In case you were wondering - and these figures are from the United States alone:
In 1992...there were just 1,802 attempts by women to become pregnant using someone else's eggs, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Three years later, there were more than 4,738 such cycles; by 2004, the most recent year for which data has been published, there were 15,175 cycles, resulting in 5,449 babies. By comparison, some 22,911 children were adopted from abroad that year, and although there are no official figures, one survey estimated that at least the same number are conceived annually via donor insemination. Donor eggs are now used in 12 percent of all in vitro fertilization (I.V.F.) attempts, making it among the fastest-growing infertility treatments.
This also gives an idea of the exponential growth of these treatments.
And what about births to older mothers?
The birthrate among women ages 40-44 has risen 62 percent since 1990, while the rate among those in their late 40s has more than doubled. Among those who used I.V.F. in 2004, about a third of the 43-year-olds used someone else's eggs; by 47 years old, 91 percent did.